By Jessica Dye
NEW YORK, Oct 24 (Reuters) - A federal judge has set an
expedited schedule for objectors to weigh in against a proposed
$7.2 billion settlement between merchants and credit-card giants
Visa Inc and Mastercard Inc, giving opponents less time than
expected to fight against initial approval of the potentially
The proposed settlement was submitted Friday for preliminary
approval by the court. If it receives first preliminary and then
final approval, it would be the largest federal antitrust
settlement in U.S. history, offering nearly 8 million merchants
$7.2 billion in cash and temporary reductions in interchange, or
swipe fees, which stores must pay to process credit and debit
Since it was announced in July, the proposal has been
opposed by some of the largest U.S. retailers, including
Wal-Mart Stores Inc, and trade groups like the National Retail
Federation. Ten of the 19 original stores and trade groups
leading the litigation have also come out in opposition.
Retailers and trade groups that oppose the settlement will
have until Oct. 31 to file their written objections with the
court, according to an order handed down Wednesday. A hearing
has been scheduled for Nov. 9 before U.S. District Judge John
Gleeson in Brooklyn federal court.
The deadlines set by Gleeson are considerably shorter than
parties in the case had anticipated. At recent hearings, a
magistrate judge indicated that parties opposing the deal would
have until mid-November to file written objections, and a
hearing was expected to be scheduled in either December or
The expedited schedule "could be a very, very good sign for
the settlement," said Bob Stolebarger, a partner at Bryan Cave
who is antitrust counsel to the Electronic Payments Coalition, a
trade group for credit-card companies and payment networks.
Gleeson also offered his own initial assessment of the deal
on Wednesday, saying that "at first blush, it appears to satisfy
the threshold requirements for preliminary approval." However,
he noted that the legal standard for preliminary approval is
lower than that for final approval, and said objections
"deserve, and will get, careful consideration by the court."
Visa, Mastercard and lawyers appointed by the court to
represent lead merchants have said they are confident that
Gleeson will ultimately approve the deal.
But opponents say it does not meet the legal standard of
being "fair, reasonable and adequate."
If approved, the settlement would resolve seven years of
litigation brought on behalf of stores, restaurants and
retailers who accused the credit card companies of conspiring
with banks to inflate swipe fees. If it is rejected by the
court, the parties could wind up back at square one.
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